Oct 11, 2023 | The Rev. Steven Morton

“Be united in the same mind and the same purpose.”  (I Corinthians 1:10b NRSV) A compelling vision, paired with a competent and committed team, can accomplish extraordinary feats of mission.

The president of my graduate school alma mater recently shared again the strategic vision that guides everything attempted at Duke University. He referred to it as a “mission” statement:  “…(to) foster a more inclusive and equitable campus and world, (to) partner with purpose in service to our community, and (to) advance humankind.”  (Duke Magazine, Fall 2023, p.1) 

Stick “Jesus” in there somewhere, and that’s a vision I can get behind! Gil Rendle’s new book, Countercultural: Subversive Resistance and the Neighborhood Congregation, prescribes that main ingredient of a church’s vision in the title of his final chapter: “Jesus Is Enough.” (Clergy should come learn more about Gil’s forward-thinking book when he visits EPA for a special teaching event November 15 at Innabah Camp & Retreat Center. Learn more.) Setting a clear and exciting course for any organization—and any church—is a function of key leadership.  Remember then-candidate for President George Bush’s infamous response when asked about his longer-term plans for leading America: “Oh, the vision thing.” Yes, leaders: it’s the vision thing!  Where are we going? And how will we get there?   

Vision alone will not produce results

But vision alone will not produce results. Many a visionary leader has wilted after sharing lofty words that create momentary enthusiasm but displaying no effort or capacity to build a construction team.  An article on “How to Make Real Change” includes this advice: “Encourage engagement. People are more invested in a solution when they are part of it.”  (AARP Magazine, May 2023) 

Review Nehemiah 4:15-20 to see how the rebuilding of Jerusalem’s walls was accomplished through a pairing of vision and teamwork:  “Half of my servants worked on construction, and half held spears.…and the leaders posted themselves behind the whole house of Israel.” (4:16) Everyone knew the overall goal and where their own contribution fit into its accomplishment. 

In my former congregation, we had an unofficial four-word mission statement: “Everybody’s Gifted, Everybody Serves.”  Remarkable mission ensued! 

Great vision will flounder, or even die, when leaders do not encourage engagement from the team.  In his early teens, Bill Gates attended a school called Lakeside in Seattle, when he encountered unusual affirmation for his wild ideas about a new thing called “computers.” While there, he also formed a partnership with another teenager who eventually helped him open his first company. 

“I can directly trace the founding of Microsoft back to my earliest days [at Lakeside,]” he writes.  “Lakeside just unleashed us!”  (21 Great Leaders, Williams, p. 150) The very best leaders put the right people around themselves, and absolutely “unleash” the giftedness and contributions of the team.

National news coverage has focused recently on mega-artist Taylor Swift attending Kansas City Chiefs pro football games to root for the team that stole the Super Bowl from the Philadelphia Eagles last year. Less known may be the stunning appreciation she showed for the team undergirding the unprecedented success of her Eras Tour—and her commitment to their development. She gifted her crew and truck drivers with unsolicited $100,000 pay bonuses.

I imagine that $100,000 could unleash a whole lot of loyalty!  Maybe you can’t do that in your church; but never forget to encourage personal engagement from those team members who are most responsible for carrying the ball toward and over the goal line. 

Listen to their ideas.  Empower their performance.  Reward their accomplishments.  The vision thing is critical. But teamwork: that’s your real mission as a leader. 


Questions for Reflection:

1.    Does your congregation today have a Mission Statement which guides everything attempted there?  Is it bold enough to create enthusiasm but specific enough for everyone to find their own place?

2.    Vibrant congregations result from engaged participants (I Peter 1:10b).  Share where you have seen this demonstrated, and how it helps to attract (and grow) new disciples of Jesus Christ.  

3.    What are some ways to encourage and reward teamwork in your congregation?